June 23, 2012 / Opportunity

Happy 40th Birthday, Title IX!


Today marks a very important milestone in women’ s history–the fortieth birthday of the legislation known as Title IX. Title IX was introduced as an amendment to the re-authorization of a the Higher Education Act and actually did not even  specifically mention women’s participation in sports, which is what  it has became known for over the decades. The amendment is only one sentence:

No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any educational program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance.

It aimed to offer equal opportunity to women in all aspects of higher education–access to college, sports, other extra curricular activity, specific classes, tutoring, and facilities among other things.  Senator  Birch Bayh of Indiana proposed the amendment, which passed both houses of Congress and was signed by President Nixon on June 23, 2012. Although the legislation was passed as applied to institutions of higher education, the 1979 “three prong test” for compliance has often been applied to any educational institution which receives federal funding, which would include high schools.

Many prominent women have offered their appreciation for the piece of legislation. In an event announcing a new initiative to empower female athletes throughout the world, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton noted,” [t]he title IX decision was revolutionary, and I think all of us who care about opportunities for girls and women view it as one of the most consequential pieces of legislation for women in our country’s history.” In her memoir Going Rogue, Governor Sarah Palin noted, ” I’m a product of Title IX and am proud that it was Alaska’s own Ted Stevens who helped usher through the federal legislation in 1972 to ensure girls would have the right to the same education and athletic opportunity as boys. I was a direct beneficiary of the equal rights efforts that had begun only the decade before. Later, my own daughters would benefit, participating in sports like hockey, wrestling, and football, which had been closed to girls for decades.”  Tennis legend, Billie Jean King’s  Women’s Sports Foundation notes that female sports participation is 900% since the law’s passage in 1972. Soccer star, Abby Wambach tweeted in honor of the celebration,” We have to keep believing in the impossible. If they hadn’t 40 years ago, none of this would have happened.”

We all may not have become a professional athlete and we may not have gone on to play at the collegiate level, but we all have our stories–stories of how such legislation blessed our lives–be it directly or indirectly. When I was in high school, I played point guard for my school’s girls’ basketball team, and I was a member of the Math Club. One day during the basketball season, my math teacher brought in her yearbook to tell me about her high school basketball days. She was in high school when Title IX was implemented, and although it didn’t directly apply to high schools, it coincided with the first time her school offered girls’ basketball. She jumped at the opportunity to play. We also smiled over the fact that, as athletes and math nerds, that we both shared the number “13.” It wasn’t unlucky for us. Title IX not only provided women with educational and athletic opportunities; it also gave women opportunities for mentorship and provided role models that girls and women previously didn’t have.

A very happy 40th birthday to Title IX! Let’s play ball!


Please check out these links in celebration of  Title IX:

A clip from the Title IX documentary: Sporting Chance

The Top 40 Female Athletes of the Last 4o Years

Billie Jean King talks to CBS Sports about the Anniversary of Title IX

 Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announces the State Department’s partnership with ESPN on global sports mentoring program, coinciding with the celebration of 40 years of Title IX


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  • blackbird

    Thanks Whitney for writing this and reminding us of this important legislation.

  • Great post, Whitney! Thank you for this.

    I missed the opportunities Title IX provided when I was growing up, but I sure appreciate where women’s sports are in this country today. It was most definitely the right thing to do, and the benefits for girls/women goes far beyond the physical.

    Thanks for this!

  • JeanLouise

    That was an eye-opener. I had no idea that a conservative Democratic senator proposed Title IX. These days, very few Democrats would propose such legislation and all Republicans would vote against it, most swearing that such legislation would be the beginning of the end of capitalism and the civilized world.

    It’s beyond sad and very instructive that Sarah Palin, who opposes any new legislation which tries to right the wrongs of pay discrimination, speaks effusively of how she benefitted from Title IX. I’m fairly certain that even Sarah Palin would vote against the Act if it were proposed today.